With 25 years in the art business and two nationally recognized art galleries, Dr. Mark Sublette gives important tips of the trade before you ever open your own art gallery.
How to Start an Art Gallery
So, you want to be an art dealer. Well, how do you go about doing it? That's a good question, and one that I had to search about in my own life because I came from a different profession. I was a physician, and decided I really loved art; I was a collector, and I wanted to become an art dealer. I didn't know anything about art dealing. So, where do you go?
There's not really a university course that (from which) you can become an art dealer. Now, you can take fine art courses, which are very helpful and getting a degree is very helpful, but that still doesn't tell you about how to actually become an art dealer. So, I'll just give you a few pearls that may help your quest, if you so desire to become an art dealer.
One of the things that you need to do is you have to be passionate about something. If you're just going in for it the money because you think you can make a lot of money, I highly recommend you go to Wall Street. This is not the field for that. If you don't have the passion and the desire to be immersed in art or antiques, then really you should look at a different profession. You can just click this off right now.
But, if you do meet those criteria then this is what I have to say to you: first, is really know your material, and that's not only know it from an academic standpoint but you actually have to understand the price structure. Remember, art is an imperfect market, so that means that it's in the eye of the beholder. So, I would recommend that you pick a small area. If you're going to deal in deceased work – pick a small niche area and really learn it to the very best capability, and become a specialist. Anybody who becomes a specialist in any field is much more sought out, much more desirable, and you can become the leader in that market. And being a market leader is never a bad thing.
Don't expect overnight results; it took me at least ten years to get to where people would believe me, and understand that I'm not going out of business next week. If you're going to deal with living artists, there's also the catch-22 of: living artists don't want to go with you unless you've been in business long enough to show that you can make it. And the problem is that no good artists want to come with you until you're already gone along the road, so it may take awhile to get that one or two artists to start your core portion of your art gallery.
That's very important – you have to get one really good artist to go to your gallery. Once you do, then they kind of fall like dominoes; you’ll get more artists and then it's really not a problem. So, remember there are a couple things that you have to understand (about) what you're going to do if you're going to be an art dealer.
One, you have to have passion. You really need to know one part of that material very well, whatever it may be. (Two) become a niche player – it will help you greatly. And three, have the best ethics you can. If you start off with bad ethics – if you get a bad name in the field right off the bat – people talk, customers talk, dealers talk, and you'll be out of the business before you even get started.